Newswise (01/03/07)— Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it has approved consumption of meat and milk from some species of cloned, food-producing animals.
Here Dr. Gary Weaver, Director of the Program on Agriculture and Animal Health Policy, Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy (CFNAP) at the University of Maryland, answers questions about the decision, about the safety of consuming meat and milk of cloned animals and the science of cloning. A licensed veterinarian, Weaver has been head of pathology at a veterinary diagnostic laboratory, mycotoxin researcher, practicing veterinarian, lawyer and legal consultant on animal health issues. He has served as expert in bioterrorism and counterterrorism for the FDA and the intelligence community. Dr. Weaver's comments may be used by media.
What’s your opinion of the FDA ruling?
Their conclusion that meat and milk from some species of animal clones – so far cattle, swine, and goats – and their non-cloned offspring are safe to eat is a good one. FDA experts have carefully studied all available scientific reports about animal cloning for more than five years.
Concerns have been raised about the safety of meat and milk from clones, but the FDA reported in a new scientific publication that meat and milk from cloned animals and their non-cloned offspring are indistinguishable from those of traditional animals consumed by Americans every day. In fact, the only way to positively identify a clone is to certify that it has virtually the same genetic material as another animal that is not its identical twin. The FDA therefore concluded that food products from cloned cattle, swine, and goats are as safe for people to eat as those from non-cloned animals.
How does cloning work?
In animal cloning, the genetic material from the male donor with the desirable traits is not diluted as it is in natural reproduction, when all genetic materials from donor and recipient are randomly mixed. Cells used in cloning are typical animal cells consisting of the relatively small, dense nucleus (containing virtually all of the cell’s genetic material) residing with other cell parts in the larger, surrounding cytoplasm – all enclosed by the cell membrane. The newest, most-promising cloning method first isolates a donor animal cell nucleus, then places it into a recipient’s egg with its nucleus removed. The resulting embryo is transferred to a female to carry to term.
How are cloned animals different from traditionally bred animals?
Adult cloned animals – plus their non-cloned offspring – are the same as traditional, non-cloned animals born to other traditional, non-cloned animals. Cloned animals used for meat and milk have only traditional animal genes. They have a mother; they do not develop in a test tube or incubator. In addition, clones are used to reproduce non-cloned offspring that also have only traditional animal genes
Is a cloned animal the same as a genetically modified organism, or GMO?
There is nothing genetically modified because cloned animals contain only their own species’ traditional genetic material. There is nothing genetically added or subtracted either. Cloned animals and their non-cloned offspring are not genetically modified organisms because GMOs (aka, genetically engineered organisms or transgenic organisms - here, transgenic animals) all contain deliberately added foreign genes.
Why are people concerned about cloning?
The many reports of what may possibly go wrong with animal clones have proved to be not much more than exciting scientific fiction when compared to the rather dull findings that cloned animals are the ordinary animals people have raised and consumed for millennia.
Also, some organizations claim that animal cloning is unnatural human intervention, but that bridge was crossed many centuries ago. For millennia, people have closely controlled domestic animal reproduction to develop specific animal breeds for companionship, food, and work. Today, all breeds of cattle, dogs, cats, pigs, horses, chickens, plus all other domestic animals are the direct result of intensive, unending, human intervention using selective animal breeding programs. None of today’s domestic animal breeds would ever have developed using only natural selection and random breeding. There would be no Holstein cows for superior milk production or Angus cattle for high-quality beef. There most certainly would be no Siamese cats or Chihuahua dogs if humans had let “nature take its course.”
Will successful animal cloning bring us closer to being able to clone a human being?
Cattle cloning procedures do not necessarily work in other animal species. Furthermore, the U.S. is only one small part of a growing global scientific research effort to understand animal cloning. Sadly, some recent U.S. public policies and opinionated activism threaten our scientific leadership in this and other areas of research.
Are there any benefits to cloned animals over traditionally bred livestock?
Cloning allows livestock producers to reduce, by years, the decade or so now required to get superior animals to market with the newly-identified, superior genetic traits of male animals which are then placed in artificial insemination breeding programs.
USDA prime beef – currently about three percent of all beef steaks – could become our only grade of beef – and at affordable prices! Also, fewer superior dairy cows could produce the same quantity of milk while making less animal waste.
It is noteworthy, however, that few cloned animals will actually be consumed by Americans any time soon, because they are too expensive to eat. For now, all cloned animals will likely be breeding stock that pass along their superior traits to their non-cloned offspring, which will end up on American dinner tables in time.